Cancer: The Alternative Care Leader

Conventional cancer treatments (surgery, toxic chemotherapeutic agents, and radiation therapy), whose side effects range from nausea and appetite loss to depressed immune function and death, make it easy to understand why cancer patients turn to alternative medicine. Some 35 to 69 percent of cancer patients in the United States use alternative treatments. [1, 2]

"Every patient I have treated over the past 15 years has wanted to know what they can do to enhance conventional cancer therapy," says James S. Gordon, M.D., executive director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C. "These individuals need qualified guidance through every step of their disease process, from diagnosis to treatment, and beyond."

Cancer patients pursue "unproven" therapies (often out of dissatisfaction with conventional medicine) with the intent of reestablishing control over their lives and achieving symptom relief. [3] For some cancer patients, the use of alternative medicine is a philosophical fit, often providing the emotional support needed to cope with their anxiety and fear.

The primary alternative medical approaches include nutrition, herbal therapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, relaxation and meditation techniques, and spiritual healing.

While many cancer patients benefit from alternative medicine, its acceptance and use by conventional medical doctors continues to lag. In response to this problem, Gordon will soon offer a practitioner training program to help them assist their patients in evaluating options and emotionally coping with their disease. "CancerGuides: A Program to Train Integrative Cancer Care Counselors," will take place this July 22-28 in Snowmass, Colo. It is designed to teach caregivers counseling techniques, evaluate cancer research, and discuss the issues around developing an integrative medicine program.

This is a progressive step toward integration as practitioners seek the research to validate various alternative medicine approaches.


1. Richardson MA, et al.
Complementary/alternative medicine use in a comprehensive cancer center and the implications for oncology.
J Clin Oncol 2000 Jul;18(13):2505-14.

2. Coss RA, et al. V.
Alternative care. Patient choices for adjunct therapies within a cancer center.
Cancer Pract 1998 May-Jun;6(3):176-81.

3. Wein S.
Cancer, unproven therapies, and magic.
Oncology 2000 Sep;14(9):1345-59.

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